"Years ago the techniques, the technology, the concepts, they were all so much more labor intensive so people would ruin their entire summer if they got something done," explained Dr. Steven Davis, a Cherry Hill-based plastic surgeon. Davis said his business has gone up about 15 to 20 percent each summer for the past five years.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that noninvasive procedures jumped 123 percent over the past 11 years, from 5.5 million in 2000 to 12.25 million in 2011. That defines everything from wrinkle-dissolver Botox to laser hair removal under the arms, on the legs and yes, down there. Doctors can smooth out a shriveled décolletage, too.
The array of quick fixes — I'd be lying if I didn't say I dream of a doctor erasing my saddlebags — does sound magical. But how can the ability to change ourselves overnight be good for our self-esteem?
"I think we really have to think about what our expectations are," explained Adrienne Ressler, body image expert and national training director for Philadelphia's The Renfrew Foundation. "As women move toward midlife, they get farther away from the beauty ideal, and sometimes they think of these procedures as magic pills that can change who they are. That is not good."
Such hunger for perfection has proved dangerous as women without access to certified plastic surgeons try makeshift procedures. In February 2011, a 20-year-old from London died from getting silicone injected into her buttocks at a local hotel. In March, Philadelphia police arrested Padge-Victoria Windslowe.
Keep in mind, miracles shouldn't be the goal. If you are 50 pounds overweight, don't expect radio frequency procedures will melt away pounds.
"Once they exercise, diet and lose weight, then we can sculpt the other areas as necessary," explained Dr. Kevin Cross, who works at the Center City practice Deme. "You can't correct irregularities like loose skin with exercise."
Here are some of this summer's wardrobe staples and what doctors are offering to make them work:
High-cut bikinis. You have to be toned and hairless, making this skin-baring look one of the hardest to pull off. Davis recommends the Matrix laser, what he says is the best and fastest way to eliminate unwanted, darker pigmented hair. It takes two $150 sessions to kill the follicle. If it's saddlebags that are cramping your style, Cross recommends the Accent laser, a radio-frequency device that tightens collagen around the hips and upper thighs, eradicating the cottage cheese, dimpled look. The procedure costs between $1,000 and $4,000, depending on how big the targeted area is.
Midriff tops/spaghetti-strap maxis. Radio frequency can also help you smooth out and tighten stretch marks around the abdomen, arms and the breast area by stimulating collagen growth. The Pelleve Wrinkle Reduction system can target these areas by using a wand, Davis said. After at least three $250 sessions, the tightening effects last indefinitely.
Hot pants. Filling out these pants is a two-step process, explained Davis. First, he uses a radio frequency procedure to break down the puckering under the skin that causes cellulite, hollowing out the area — think of it as clearing out a crater. Then, he takes fat from the adjacent areas and injects it into the hollow space, thus plumping up and smoothing out the skin. The process is called Cellutite and can cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000, depending on the targeted area. "If you do this on a Friday," Davis said, "you can be sitting on the beach by Saturday afternoon."
Updos. Uses for Juvederm and Restlyane have moved beyond our lips; now earlobes can be plumped up, which might matter if you're wearing your hair up and back all season. Over time, Davis says, ears lose collagen, not to mention the damage they bear from too-heavy earrings, giving them a saggy appearance. "This puffs the earlobe out so the earring looks like it is sitting on a pillow," Davis said. "I started out injecting people's lips and I'd have a little bit left so I'd add some to the ears. People just loved it." Expect to pay about $500. "You'd be surprised how much product you need to pump up an ear."
Asymmetrical skirts. A skirt with varying hem lengths can really bring attention to your blue veins. Vascular lasers, which help with rosacea and facial flushing, can be used on legs, too. "That will melt those little veins away and they won't come back," Cross says. Costs vary between $250 and $500 per treatment. You only need one injection for each vein.
Contact Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @ewellingtonphl. Read her blog, "Mirror Image," at philly.com/mirrorimage.